The Congress has something of a narrative around the welfare state. It can run the story that, at least in formal terms, it has secured the basics: guaranteed employment, housing, food and education. It is trying to keep one part of the social contract. Its problem is that it faltered on the other part: creating the conditions for deeper participation and sustained growth in the economy. And no matter what high decibel critics might say, it is a welfare story whose appeal is hard to resist.

The problem with much of the right-of-centre economic discourse in India is three-fold. First, it does not have much of a sense of history. Has any modern society evolved without robust welfare protection? It is not an accident that even so-called right wing politicians, from Bismarck to Churchill and Nixon, have supported an efficient and humane basic income guaranteed by the state.

Second, the right was caught in its own bad faith. On one hand, it wanted to critique entitlements and rights per se, on the other hand, it wanted to embrace direct cash transfers as an alternative. So in the end its arguments against redistribution ended up sounding more like lawyerly bad faith than a principled position. Read More